Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that involves sending a concentrated beam of light against the skin to damage the hair follicles and stop hair growth. It is a treatment that may seem a bit intimidating and that is still subject to a lot of misconceptions. That is why a lot of prospective patients may be a bit afraid of taking the leap. So, is laser hair removal safe?
How Does Laser Hair Removal Work
Laser hair removal is a long-term hair growth reduction method. Indeed, it can remove hair growth by up to 90%. The procedure has a short history and as per the FDA standards, does not classify as permanent hair removal. However, a lot of patients do experience permanent hair removal.
Laser hair removal relies on selective photothermolysis. It is an optical technique used to ablate tissue in targeted regions. The major goal of the technique is to heat targeted tissue with a laser and destroy it without damaging surrounding tissue. Here, the target in the pigment in the hair that leads to the follicle.
During a laser hair removal session, the laser emits light energy that targets the pigment in the hair. Once the melanin has absorbed the energy, the latter travels down to the hair follicle. There, it turns into thermal energy and anchors itself to the follicle. The heat damages the hair follicle, preventing any further growth.
Laser hair removal is only efficient on hair in the anagen phase of growth. Indeed, it is the only time the hair and follicle connect, letting the energy travel from the former to the latter. Since only 20% of all body hair is in the anagen phase of growth at any point in time, one session can only treat up to 20% of hair on the chosen area.
This explains why patients always need a minimum of six sessions. This is to ensure that all hair is targeted during the treatment. Waiting six weeks will allow the hair to grow into the right phase of growth so that it can be treated. It also gives the skin time to recover after a session.
Can Anyone Do It?
Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that works on all skin tones, hair types and hair color. A big misconception is that it only works on light skin and dark hair. However, this is not true. The skin tone or hair color may affect the length of the treatment, however patients will still see a significant hair growth reduction.
Laser hair removal works best when there is a sharp contrast between hair color and skin tone. This is why it was long believed that it only works on fair skin with dark hair. Indeed, dark hair on dark skin offers a low contrast. As for light hair on fair skin, well, there is not that many pigments to target to begin with.
However, laser technology improvement now allows laser hair removal to effectively work on dark skin and fair hair alike. It all comes down to the machine used at your local spa. The only laser machines for dark skin or fair hair are either ND: YAG lasers or diode lasers. Indeed, both have a 1064nm wavelength that bypasses the epidermis without relying too much on melanin to do so.
Those two laser machines provide a safe and effective solution for people of color, who should always require one or the other to be used. The same goes for people with fair hair and light skin. The low quantity or absence of melanin in the hair may make it trickier for the laser to catch the hair.
This can explain why people with blonde or ginger hair may require additional sessions. The same goes for people of color. People with blonde hair may also display different shades of blonde depending on the area of the body. Laser hair removal will however not work on grey or white hair.
Contraindication For Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair removal is a safe and effective way to reduce hair growth. However, just like any other cosmetic procedure, it has contraindications and guidelines to pay attention to. Being open about your medical history with your certified technician is crucial to the safety and success of the treatment.
Due to the lack of study on the effect of laser hair removal on a foetus, we do not advise pregnant women to carry on with their treatment. They should wait until they are done nursing.
Sun exposure as well as artificial tanning should be avoided before and after a session for at least ten days. While natural skin color does not impact the treatment, artificial tanning puts the skin into an excited state which can interfere with the procedure.
If you have been taking medication, do tell your technician. Indeed, some topical creams and oral medication can increase photosensitivity. This means that the treatment will be more painful for you. Antibiotics belong to that category. Wait at least 10 days after your last antibiotics intake before you come in for a new session. Medications such as Accutane are not compatible with laser hair removal.
If you undergo laser hair removal on your face, make sure to not go for a facial in the two weeks before or after. Facials, especially chemical peels and glycolic treatments, remove the upper layer of the skin and leave it very sensitive. Going for a laser session right after a chemical peel may increase the chances of side effects.
Potential Risks And Side Effects
Laser hair removal is safe and has very few side effects. These can also easily be avoided if there is clear communication between the patient and the technician as well as if all care recommendations are strictly followed.
A very common side effect of laser hair removal is redness. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you may see some redness. However, it will fade after a few hours. The skin may also feel irritated but a bit of aloe vera gel will fix that.
Another potential side effect is crusting. However, as long as the patient does not scratch the skin, it won’t be an issue. You may also see some skin discoloration that will fade away after a few hours.
The heat remains in the skin for up to 24 hours after the session. This is why patients must avoid sweat or heat inducing activities like hot showers, sauna or working out. Indeed, the heat can create an ideal ground for bacteria development, which can lead to skin infection.
Other side effects of laser hair removal, yet much more rare, include blisters, burns and scarring as well as change in skin texture. However, with open communication during the session and appropriate pre and post-session care, those can be avoided. If the intensity of the laser is too high, do tell your technician.
Is Laser Hair Removal Safe?
Laser hair removal is like any other cosmetic procedure. It has risks and side effects. However, those can be easily avoided for the most part if the patients follow the pre and post-session care guidelines as communicated by the certified technician.
Contraindications for laser hair removal are clear yet temporary. Most of the time, they mostly are about something that cannot be done in conjunction with laser hair removal. Thus, it makes sense to avoid laser treatments during that period of time before you no longer have any contraindications.
There are ways to make laser hair removal even safer, although they are mostly about observing strict care recommendations:
-Avoid sun exposure before and after a session.
>-Apply a physical sunblock with SPF 30 at least should you have no choice but to expose the treated area (i.e., the face).
-Avoid all kinds of artificial tanning such as tanning beds, tanning creams, UV rays, etc.
-Avoid skin bleaching on the treated area.
-Do not undergo laser hair removal if you are on antibiotics or other photo-sensising medication.
-Do not undergo facial laser hair removal after a facial treatment.
-Do not undergo laser hair removal while pregnant.
-Enquire about the laser machine and wavelength used during your session to ensure it is suitable for your skin tone and hair color.
–Shave prior to each session, three hours before at least.
Laser hair removal is a safe treatment. However, the occurrence of risks and side effects or their lack thereof mostly relies on following pre and post-session care recommendations.